31 October 2013

Cheer A Weary Traveler (A Habit for Day 31)

I know when you're in the middle of trials, you feel like you're in the middle of a dense fog.  Believe me, I know.

But as you and I draw as close to Jesus as we can--and I hope you've realized afresh with me this month that He is always closer than we thought--we cannot help but begin anew to reflect the light of His presence.

It's a light too beautiful to keep to ourselves, and it only increases as we share it.

There's a simple educational plan Jesus uses with us as He walks us through our lives' hardest times, because it's hard to know exactly how to encourage someone else.  It's one of the good things God works together from the all things (even the ones that appear to be against us).

"Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God."  
2 Corinthians 1:3, 4

God never intended for us to go through our trials alone.  He also never intended us to stand aside, not knowing what to do or say when we see someone hurting.  He Himself draws near during our worst moments, and once we've experienced the soothing and refreshing only He can offer, He gives us the job of imitating Him to those around us.

Don't stand by at a loss for what to do or say.

Think about what Jesus did for you during your darkest hours, and then go do that (to whatever extent a human can, anyway).  It may be in the form of an encouraging card, text, phone call, or e-mail.  Maybe cookies with a quick note are your love language.  Sometimes all a person needs to remember is that they're not alone, that the kinds of trials they face are not unique to them, that someone understands.  Draw close to the one in need, speak the promises of God, tell how you yourself have been comforted, led, and delivered.

But a word of caution?

If you're a woman, and you see a man who is not your husband or a close family member going through "tribulation"?  Let another man do the comforting.  Stay completely out of it if you can; if not, be extremely cautious.  Stay emotionally distant.  Those men are what my friends and I like to call "guy projects".  Girls will have plenty to keep them busy if they stick to "girl projects".  

I'm not saying you can never speak to or encourage someone of the opposite gender.  Just don't get yourself emotionally entangled with someone you shouldn't (especially if their "desert" involves marital issues).  

But do look for appropriate opportunities to brighten the path of another pilgrim striving for that glorious city.  It's our final goal, after all, and it's one we don't want to miss.  We all need those rays of sunshine to brighten the straight and narrow path.

On the last day of our series in the desert, let's remember to gather hope and encouragement, not only for ourselves, but also for others wandering through barrenness.

It's just one more way we can be like Jesus--the Jesus who walks with us all the way, brings us water in the wilderness, and gives us a hope and a future.

"Earthly pleasures vainly call me;
I would be like Jesus; 
Nothing worldly shall enthrall me;
I would be like Jesus.

"Be like Jesus, this my song,
in the home, and in the throng;
Be like Jesus all day long!
I would be like Jesus.

"He has broken every fetter;
I would be like Jesus;
That my soul may serve Him better;
I would be like Jesus.


"All the way from earth to glory
I would be like Jesus
Telling o'er and o'er the story
I would be like Jesus.


"That in heaven He may meet me,
I would be like Jesus;
That His words, 'Well done' may greet me,
I would be like Jesus."


(Hymn I Would Be Like Jesus found in the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal, number 311.)

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30 October 2013

Temptation in the Wilderness (Jesus' Story, Day 30)

The Bible is so full of profound and definite things to think about that we often miss some of the most interesting spaces it leaves, spaces only to be filled in when we have the perspective of eternity.

Here's what I mean.  Luke says this:  "And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being forty days tempted of the devil.  And in those days He did eat nothing:  and when they were ended, He afterward hungered."  
Luke 4:1, 2 

Let's just stop for a second and notice that Jesus was tempted during the full forty days.  I most often look at the story as if Jesus fasted, spending time gaining strength from His Father, and then at His weakest physical point endured the temptations of Satan himself.

Yet the way Luke describes it, there seem to have been temptations throughout the forty days. 
Constant opportunities to break out of communion with His Father for quick "relief".  Constant chances to look out for Himself instead of follow through on His mission.  Constant chances to let the total mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion of the experience overcome Him.

He was hungrier than I have ever been; He was thirstier than I have ever been; He was out in the unpleasant elements longer than I have ever been; He went through temptation after temptation without relief.  I can't fathom the desert experience He went through, but He went through it to bring an ultimate end to our lifetime of deserts.

The devil came in at the end of these hungry, thirsty, sun-beated days for his last great attempt at keeping you and me in a desert forever, with no hope.  He was right about one thing--Jesus could have made the stones into bread.  He easily had that power.

But what Jesus could not do, except at the cost of His whole mission, was use His power for selfish pursuits, or prove who He was by anything that would contradict His revealed character in the Word of God.

The difference between making bread for Himself and making it for a multitude or two later in His ministry was just that, the difference between looking out for Himself and looking out for the people He came to save.

Linger in that desert with Jesus for just a moment, just long enough to appreciate the intensity He suffered for you.  Then follow the story through to His victory.  Study how He overcame by the Word of God.  Study how He told the devil to get lost, because He would never break the commandment of God.  Study how Jesus refused every quick fix and every false glory, enduring to the end to gain the truest victory ever won.

Then go, and do likewise.

Trials or no trials, whether your needs are provided for in that moment or not, just follow after Jesus.  His footsteps are the only ones that lead out of the desert, rather than around and around in it forever.  Trust Him for the things you need--they may not come from the hand of an angel like they did for Jesus, but Jesus promised to supply all your needs according to His riches (see Philippians 4:19), and His promise cannot fail.

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29 October 2013

Christian Sabbath Keeping (A Habit for Day 29)

In the Beginning, Jesus made Sabbath

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God.  All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made...He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not."  John 1:1, 2, 3, 10 (emphasis mine)

You know John is talking about Jesus, right, the world's Maker and Redeemer?  I like to think of that when I read about creation in Genesis, because Jesus is so personal and real to me through the stories of the gospel.  We could read it like this:

"In the beginning [Jesus] created the heaven and the earth..."  Genesis 1:1

Doesn't that already feel more like you're right there in the story?

"And on the seventh day [Jesus] ended His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made.  And [Jesus] blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because in it He had rested from all His work which God created and made."  Genesis 2:2, 3

Right there, from the beginning, in a perfect and complete world, Jesus kept the Sabbath.  It's a thought that fills me with breathless awe.  What great things must have been shared between Jesus and His two new humans that first Sabbath, the first full day Adam and Eve are alive!  There are no problems to distract, no worries to weigh down, no joys too full to experience.

In the Desert, Jesus Reminds Israel about the Sabbath

Enslaved for many generations, the children of Israel had no idea they were worth a day of rest.  We don't completely know what their Sabbath experience was in Egypt, but when we travel with them to Sinai, Jesus simply calls them to remember it.

Keep it holy.  Don't use it for your own labors.  Don't use it for an excuse to push your burdens on anyone else--not even your animals.  I created the earth, I created you, and I created the Sabbath.  Don't forget!  Sabbath will remind you to worship Me.

It's my loose paraphrase of Exodus 20:8-11.  When we look at Deuteronomy, we can add I'm the One who brought you out of slavery.

Thus the Sabbath was to remind them of their Creator and Redeemer, two things still worth our while to remember.  Like them, we can leave our labors with Him for a day without loss.
What's more, the Israelites learned that deserts are no place to disobey any of the laws of God.  We can keep the same thing in mind whenever we go through trials.  Worshiping another in place of God will not make our trials easier to bear.  Neither will swearing, telling a little white lie, wishing we were in someone else's shoes, taking another person's belongings (or another person's life), or cheating on our spouses.

Breaking God's laws always makes life worse.

{If you're wondering how I drew the connection between Jesus and the God who spoke from Sinai, compare Exodus 3:14 with Jesus' words and the religious leaders' reaction to them in John 8:58, 59.}

While on Earth, Jesus Kept the Sabbath

 Throughout the gospels, there is a tension between the religious leaders and Jesus because of the Sabbath.  The leaders accuse Jesus of breaking it; Jesus shows that rather they are the ones who are breaking it.

For just one example, let's look at what happened in the synagogue (church) one Sabbath morning.

A man attended there whose hand was useless and withered; the religious leaders whispered among themselves ahead of time, eyes open, wondering if Jesus would heal the man on Sabbath.  They hoped He would, not because then the man would be healthy and physically restored, but because they wanted a reason to throw the death sentence at Jesus.

Jesus anticipates their reasoning with His question before the whole congregation.

"And He saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill?  But they held their peace."  Mark 3:4

In answer to their silence, Jesus heals the man.  Clearly, then, it is lawful to save life on the Sabbath, and Jesus is well within the bounds of the law.

But the religious leaders?

They immediately left and called a council with Herod's men to plot a way to kill Jesus.  Sounds like a nice Sabbath afternoon activity, right?  Wrong!  Sabbath, the day to remember God as our Creator and Redeemer, has everything to do with life and nothing to do with death.

Thus in this instance, and in the other Sabbath controversies during His life on earth, Jesus showed not that Sabbath was no longer relevant, but that it had wrongly become a form behind which only selfishness reigned.  His love needed to be restored to His day, and He set the ultimate example of keeping the Sabbath.  After all, if He had not kept the Sabbath--if He had broken any of the laws of God--He would have failed at saving us from our sins.

Even in death, Jesus and His followers kept the Sabbath.  The women did not embalm Him over the Sabbath hours.  They didn't make excuses about how important He was to them; instead, they went home to observe a grief-ridden Sabbath as Jesus had done and commanded them to do.  Jesus raised up in new life after the Sabbath passed.

{Of the eight New Testament texts that mention the first day of the week, six describe the events of the day Jesus rose from the dead; one describes a meeting of believers to listen to Paul preach one more time before he leaves town; and one describes preparing ahead to bring an offering to the Lord.  None of the texts describe a change of the Sabbath from the seventh day of the week to the first day of the week.  I'd love to hear from you if you have further questions about it!}

We Still Need the Sabbath

 In a perfect world, God designed a Sabbath rest for all humans to enjoy with Him.  How much more do we, like the children of Israel in the wilderness, need Sabbath now, in a world full of trials, sins, and weariness of all kinds!

I believe with all my heart that on the day Jesus set aside from the beginning, He has blessings in store for us that we can experience on no other day.  He still calls us to lay down our burdens of labor, simply to rest in Him.  He still calls us to remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy, not as a life-drainer or hindrance, but as a life-giving oasis in a barren land.

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28 October 2013

Stephen was Stoned (Stephen's Story, Day 28)

The Bible tells us Stephen was full of faith and power as well as the Holy Spirit, even working miracles.  When a group of scholars tried to dispute with him, "...they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake."  Acts 6:11
He was eloquent, and always ready to give a reason for the hope which he had.

Which made his opponents incredibly angry with him, to the point of gathering a mob, catching Stephen by force, bringing false witnesses against him, and accusing him of blasphemy (which meant a death sentence if "proven" guilty).

Does it sound familiar?  Perhaps exactly the same tactics they used against Stephen's Master?

"And all that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel."  Acts 6:15

Then they give Stephen a chance to speak for himself, and starting with Abraham to the present time he traces the entire history of Israel, right up to the murder of the Messiah.  In the face of certain death, he spares them nothing.  Although it hardly seemed possible, his sermon brought heaven's conviction to their hearts, but instead of humbling themselves before the throne and mercy of God, they get even angrier.

Humanly speaking, I'm sure Stephen knew it was over.

Yet Jesus doesn't leave Stephen without light in his last great fight against darkness, and Stephen is not the least bit afraid.

"But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, 'Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.'"  Acts 7:55, 56

 In the radiance of that light, accused falsely like Jesus, dragged out of the city designed to be a holy city on earth like Jesus, subjected to an unjust murder like Jesus, Stephen responds exactly like Jesus responded from the cross.

"And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.'  And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, 'Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.'  And when he had said this, he fell asleep."  Acts 7:59, 60

That's what it means to take up our crosses and follow Jesus.  No matter how we are treated, we are to carry with us the love Jesus had on the cross, the love that wants nothing more than to see our enemies cleared, forgiven, saved, and converted before God. 

Stephen died in the most glorious heavenly light a human being can see, shining down to him directly from God's throne.  While Jesus did not rescue him from death in that moment, Stephen "fell asleep" in the hope of the resurrection and life everlasting.

From the place of Stephen's dying prayer, a young man went out bent on destroying Christianity from the face of the earth.  He was a well-trained man, highly intelligent, and like Stephen, exceedingly eloquent.  What he didn't count on, however, was a God who could answer Stephen's prayer for the salvation of his persecutors.

It took a long time, but the light of heaven shone on Saul as it had on Stephen.  It blinded him, yet it was also the means of opening the eyes of his heart to the truth about his Savior Jesus.  Then through Saul become Paul, the heavenly light spread to the world.

Stephen's calm faith under intense persecution amazes me, but in a way, I think it shouldn't.  After all, it's only consistent with Jesus' instructions, and isn't that what a Christian's life should be like anyway? Shouldn't it feel totally predictable that Stephen and so many other martyrs down through the centuries staked their whole hope on promises like these?

"And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do."  Luke 12:4

"Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer:  behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days.  Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life."  Revelation 2:10

Indeed, let us be faithful, no matter what the test.

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27 October 2013

Trust in God (A Habit for Day 27)

 Today, simply a Psalm.  One that has meant more to me than words can express, strengthened my trust in God more times than I can count.

"Truly my soul waiteth upon God: from Him cometh my salvation.
He only is my rock and my salvation; he is my defense; I shall not be greatly moved.

"How long will ye imagine mischief against a man?
Ye shall be slain all of you: as a bowing wall shall ye be, and as a tottering fence.
They only consult to cast him down from his excellency: they delight in lies:
they bless with their mouth, but they curse inwardly.

"My soul, wait thou only upon God;
for my expectation* (see below) is from Him.
He only is my rock and my salvation: He is my defense; I shall not be moved.

"In God is my salvation and my glory:
the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God.
Trust in Him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before Him:
God is a refuge for us.

"Surely men of low degree are vanity, and men of high degree are a lie:
to be laid in the balance, they are altogether lighter than vanity.
Trust not in oppression, and become not vain in robbery:
if riches increase, set not your heart upon them.

"God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this;
that power belongeth unto God.
Also unto Thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy:
for Thou renderest to every man according to his work."

Psalm 62 (KJV)

Yes...pour out your hearts to the Lord.  Trust in the Rock, the firm foundation, rather than in wealth or power over other human beings or any other weapon of human devising.  Let God fight the battles, and move forward, always trusting.  He will not break, He will not fall, and neither will we when we stand on Him.

*As recently as the 19th century, an expectation meant much more than a mere hunch that something would happen.  Rather, it was an inheritance that could sustain and support a person throughout life.  Thus this passage meant much more to me after studying that aspect of estates and wills in 19th century England, for indeed God is the expectation that sustains and supports us throughout life.

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26 October 2013

Unfair Job Loss (Joseph's Story, Day 26)

We often hear about how trials refine us.  Maybe we get the idea from Peter?

"...That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ..."  1 Peter 1:7

Precious metals go through hot refinement that melts them to the core.  The process, though it seems to bring the metal to the brink of destruction, removes and burns away anything of inferior quality.  So when Peter talks about our faith being "much more precious than of gold", the tests our faith go through are that much more high stakes in importance than the refining and shaping process gold goes through.

If I were Joseph, I would have been tempted to think I had been pretty refined by the time I had been sold as a slave and forced to survive in a foreign country, perhaps even learning a new language or two.   He endured separation from family and all that was familiar to him, he endured the shame of being sold not only by his brothers but also a second time once he got to Egypt.  He endured the trial of menial tasks until God gradually brought him into more and more favor with his master.

Through all the difficulties, griefs, and shaming, Joseph focused on his daily tasks, serving his Egyptian master as faithfully and humbly as he served his heavenly Master.

Satan had first attempted to entice Joseph away from his faith by loneliness, emptiness, and despair, without success.  Next, the devil tried to destroy him with the sinful pleasures of pride and decadence.

After all, Joseph was the most trusted man in the house.  He had access to anything in the house he could wish to enjoy.  Why should he be denied its most beautiful treasure?

The same logic worked in Eve's downfall, when she chose to believe the one forbidden fruit would bring her the most happiness, and the same old serpent hoped it would work on Joseph.

The master's wife sweetly suggested they spend some inappropriate and falsely exciting time together, and didn't give up her purpose even though Joseph gave her as clear and decided a refusal as it was possible to give.  Once he had clearly said no with his words, he said it with all his actions, refusing to even be in her presence and recognizing the sin she so persistently pursued would not simply be against Potiphar, but even more so against God Himself.

Finally one day, she caught him--physically, by the coat--while he was faithfully discharging his duties.  She wasn't strong enough to be his match, however, and yet again he escaped from temptation before it became sin.

And all in a moment, just like that, Joseph is caught again in the midst of a fiery trial.

Some say that if the Egyptian master had truly believed his wife, and thought Joseph had raped her as she accused him of doing, he would have had Joseph executed on the spot rather than sent to a prison.  Yet because he could not lose face and trust a slave boy over his wife, he apparently had to do something drastic.  I think that's reading too much into the story.

All the Bible says about Potiphar's reaction is that he got very angry, and Joseph ended up in jail because of (not even in spite of) his impeccable integrity.

Although Joseph was completely faithful to God, and in no way deserved to be thrown in prison, God chose to rescue him slowly.  Not immediately.  Years passed before Joseph saw the light of day in freedom.  God allowed him to stay in jail without apparent hope of rescue.

Joseph trusted Him still.

While he trusted, he did whatever he found to do faithfully.  Like with Daniel and his three friends, God granted him favor in the sight of his overseer, and before long, Joseph was in charge of the entire prison.

Sometimes the ways of God are mysterious to us.  We would have thought the administrative experience Joseph gained in Potiphar's house would have been enough to prepare him for the glories and intricacies of governing of Egypt. 

But perhaps God looked at it differently, and allowed Joseph to also gain the administrative experience in a prison, where the pride of life could have no entrance, where the subjects under his care would be entirely different from and more difficult than saving the world from a famine.

  In the end, all these refining trials, combined with Joseph's faithful submission to and reliance on God, prepared him to be untouched both by selfish, dishonest gain and the cold indifference that would have turned his brothers away unfed and  unforgiven.

May the trials God allows into my life bear the same fruits.

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25 October 2013

Bless the Lord, O My Soul (A Habit for Day 25)

Do you remember Job's response to all his trials?

"Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshiped, and said, 'Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.'  In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly."  Job 1:20-22

These are some packed verses.

First, Job shows, from what I can gather, all the deepest cultural signs of grief available to him.  Tearing of the clothes accompanies some of the most desperate moments recorded in the Bible (such as when a king of later times heard the law of the Lord and realized he and his people had not been keeping it, thus putting themselves under God's judgments).  Shaving the head--probably including his beard--would have likely been a sign of shame, or deep humility.

It's important to recognize how deeply Job showed his anguish before we move on to study and emulate what he did next:  worship and bless the Lord.

He doesn't deny the depths of the woe he has just experienced, but he does lay everything back at God's feet in full surrender and trust.

He blesses the Lord without asking why and well before he hears any of the Creator's words at the end of the book.  He offers his worship, never fully getting answers--at least not the ones we would expect him to want (like why everything was allowed to happen the way it did, which is an answer we get as readers but one Job never appears to be allowed to see).

It's from this twofold foundation--the reality of our grief, and full trust and worship for God--that we can move on in faith, claiming promises and obeying commands like these:

"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose."  Romans 8:28


"In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you."  1 Thessalonians 5:18  "This command is an assurance that even those things which appear to be against us will work for our good.  God would not bid us be thankful for that which would do us harm."  White, Ellen G.  The Ministry of Healing, "Mind Cure", p. 255.

So today's habit?  Completely simple, because it only requires that we do two things.  First, get rid of denial and accept our anguish.  Second, lay that anguish and God's feet, praising and trusting Him still.

I did say "simple" and not "easy", but I truly believe there are blessings in store for us if we take God's challenge to thank Him at all times, in fullness of faith.

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24 October 2013

When Zeal Takes You to Egypt (Joseph's Story, Day 24)

Joseph was a boy of integrity.

He faithfully reported to his father the misconducts of his older brothers--just as faithfully and enthusiastically as he reported the dreams given him of God.

His father unwisely favored him, and his brothers grew jealous, but the favor shown to him was not of his choice.  It did, however, make his integrity in the face of their lack of it harder for his brothers to bear.  Thus, when the almost-youngest brother began dreaming dreams, the older brothers' jealousy knew no bounds.

Perhaps an older, wiser Joseph would have kept these things in his heart.  Perhaps an older, wiser Joseph would have only discussed the dreams with his father before broadcasting them to his older brothers.  Perhaps an older, wiser Joseph would have thought carefully about when and where to put on his expensive coat of many colors.

But the teenage Joseph, innocent in both his integrity and his youth, let all the dreams bubble out, not stopping to think they could possibly make anyone mad at him.

 Neither Joseph nor his father Jacob realized the depth of their jealousy turned hatred.  If they had, maybe one or the other would have thought of a different messenger to make the trip to find out how the older brothers were doing with the sheep.  If they had, perhaps the brothers would not have turned the visit into a chance to sell Joseph as a slave.

A million different thoughts of hurt, anger, and fear must have coursed through Joseph's mind as he traveled, possibly bound, to an unknown land and an unknown future.

Yet somewhere in his grief and turmoil, he must have turned to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, realizing the future is always unknown, but that the same God who directed his family from generation to generation could keep his own young life in His hands.

Joseph worked hard in his master's house.  The same integrity that made him a good son and a help to his father made him invaluable to the Egyptian household he eventually managed.

"And the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian.  And his master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand.  And Joseph found grace in his sight, and he served him: and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he had he put into his hand.  And it came to pass from the time that he had made him overseer in his house, and over all that he had, that the Lord blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; and the blessing of the Lord was upon all that he had in the house, and in the field."  Genesis 39:2-5

Joseph was still in slavery, yet because he was faithful to his God, the Lord made it clear to everyone who observed Joseph that a special blessing attended all that he did.  

Thus Joseph's conduct in the land of his captivity reminds all of us today to be faithful in everything we do.  There is a witness in our simple, daily labors, and a purpose that stretches far beyond the here and now, just as there was for Joseph in Egypt. (We'll talk more about that in a couple of days.)

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23 October 2013

Thinking Good Thoughts (A Habit for Day 23)

 I'm not a brain scientist, and I've never tried to measure the speed at which one thought leads to another, until I'm wildly off in idea-land, or worry-land, or some other kind of land that maybe I don't want to be in.  I just know it's really fast.

Then it feels like I'm a butterfly, flitting above the shores of a beautiful lake, only to be blown to the ground, stuck in the salt crystals, and left to languish in my discouraging thoughts.

Has that happened to you, too?  You're going along fine and then before you know it you're worried about a million crazy things you know are not logical?

Well, there's hope.  We don't have to be stuck forever.  The hope comes with hard work, but it's backed up by the Word and promises of God, which is the most sure foundation we could possibly have to turn around our thought lives.

Overcoming negative thoughts is not a powerless fight.

"For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ."  2 Corinthians 10:3-5

Before we get overwhelmed by bringing every thought captive (in other words, having control over every thought), let's focus on what Paul says about our weapons.

They are mighty.
We use them through God.
They even have power over our imaginations.
They have power over everything that goes against God.

Isn't that a boost to the confidence?  God doesn't want us to be stuck in a round of negative or fearful thinking, and He has given us the way out of these thoughts.

Next time we sense our thoughts going downhill, let's remember that God promised us help to overcome every unhealthy thought.

Take your mind off yourself, and think about Jesus.

Something I've noticed about my thoughts when they get negative in any way is that they center around myself.  The Bible says, however, to have a different thought center.

"Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:  Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."
Philippians 2:5-8

In other words, Christ focused so much on what He could do to save you and me that no sacrifice was too great for Him to make.  He didn't get hung up on being self-centered, because He saw the end goal of His mission--you, in the perfect happiness of heaven.

We can ask for the same mind.  A mind focused on blessing others.  A mind willing to be humble for the sake of being a support to someone.  A mind that forgets about being self centered long enough to reach out to other hurting people.

Next time we sense our thoughts going downhill, let's turn to Jesus and ask for His other-centered focus, and even specifically ask who around us may need encouragement.

When you don't know what to think about, use God's pre-approved list.

I don't know about you, but all I have to do is hear a single word to start thinking about what that word means to me or reminds me of.  That's part of the value, for me at least, of one of God's most famous lists in the Bible.  The words in it are so descriptive that I can't help but think of their beauty when I go through the list.  I memorized the list easily as a child to words and music on Steve Green's Hide 'em in Your Heart album, volume 1.

(I'll quote it here in a different version than he uses, however.)

"Finally brethren, whatsoever things are TRUE, whatsoever things are HONEST, whatsoever things are JUST, whatsoever things are PURE, whatsoever things are LOVELY, whatsoever things are of GOOD REPORT; if there be any VIRTUE, and if there be any PRAISE, think on these things."  Philippians 4:8

Next time we sense our thoughts going downhill, let's bring this list to mind.  And if we feel so far gone that we can't seem to think of anything on God's "approved list", let's ask Him to remind us of something--anything--that will take our minds away from what He says are good thoughts.  

Because ultimately the things that aren't on this list take our minds away from Jesus, and it's hard to walk with Him through any desert when we're looking away from Him.

{P.S.} Encouraging reading about how to conduct our thought lives:

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22 October 2013

Life on the Move (Abraham's Story, Day 22)

"By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.  By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise.  For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God."  Hebrews 11:8-10

I started to believe I knew something of what it's like to be a nomad this summer, bouncing from place to delightful place for several months, not knowing where the next place of relative permanence would be.  Abraham, however, moved around the promised land like this not for a few months, but for his entire life--from the moment God's command to the moment he died.

And not Abraham only, but his descendants for the next two generations (not to mention the many generations of exiles in Egypt).  So I take it back.  I haven't begun to come close to understanding what it must have been like to spend decades being ready to pick up and move at a moment's notice.

The very language of Hebrews gives us the clue that Abraham, and certainly Sarah as the homemaker, would have wanted to put down roots and build foundations.  Instead, they spent their lives in tents, trusting in the final inheritance of all the saints.

When we likewise feel uprooted, whether facing an physical move of a household or an uprooting more emotional in nature, we would also do well to look ahead to the place where we will feel and be permanently at home.

It's a place where we can plant any kind of tree and be there to eat all of its fruit, not just for one hundred years like my husband's new favorite fruit tree, but for eternity.  Imagine it!  Don't lose sight of that place for a moment.  It's our hope and joy, and the glory streams through its open doors even today.  Let's take a glimpse at its surpassing beauty, its stable foundations.

"They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."
Revelation 7:16, 17

"And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.  And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God.  And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away."
Revelation 21:1-4

"And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb...And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones.  The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald; the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, a beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; the twelfth, an amythest."  Revelation 21:14, 18-20

"And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.  In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations."  Revelation 22:1, 2

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21 October 2013

Time for Sunshine (A Habit for Day 21)

 I went to college and then lived several more years in a town where the sun hardly came out for six weeks straight in the winter.  You could usually follow the sun if you had a few hours for a forty-five minute, one-way drive out of the fog, but if you were craving light in the middle of the work or school week, you were sunk.

It wasn't just hard on those with seasonal depression.  It was easy to get engrossed in the routines and forget all about sunlight, until the first clear day came along.  The change in mood on campus and all over town would be palpable.  People smiled more, laughed more, and felt a load lifted from their shoulders.  It only took one day of sunshine to remind us all how badly we needed it.

 If you've ever grown a garden, you've seen how fast a new seedling will turn green when exposed to sunlight.  While humans don't do photosynthesis, we benefit from the sun's rays just as much as plants do.  Think vitamin D, think your-ability-to-process-calcium, think mood.

Jesus once again (as always!) knew what He was doing when He called Himself the light of the world.  "He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life."  John 8:12

 He's a light we need even more of than sunlight, a light that will give us even more benefits than a good dose of vitamin D.

For more information on sunlight and cancer, mood, healthy bones, immunity, arthritis, PMS, and more, visit the NewStart Lifestyle Club's page on Sunlight.

And then go outside to catch some rays, from the sun in the sky and the Sun of Righteousness.

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20 October 2013

The Burning Bush, part 2

The burden of God’s work, laid upon Moses, made him a man of power. While keeping, for so many years, the flocks of Jethro, he gained an experience that taught him true humility. But God’s call found Moses, as it will find us, inefficient, hesitating, and self-distrustful. The command to deliver Israel seemed overwhelming; but, in the fear of God, Moses accepted the trust. Mark the result: He did not bring the work down to his deficiency; but in the strength of God he put forth the most earnest efforts to elevate and sanctify himself for his sacred mission.  - White, Ellen G. Testimonies for the Church, vol 4 p 611.

The Burning Bush (Moses' Story, Day 20)

 Next time you're feeling tempted to worry about your finances?  Just think about Jochabed.  One morning, she hides her baby in a basket in the river to save his life.  That afternoon, she's getting paid by Pharaoh's daughter to nurse her own son.  God always has a way.

God chose Moses, this slave-boy turned royalty who knows the air of freedom as well as oppression, to lead His people out of their bondage.  

Moses must have known his calling, but with all his royal education behind him, he forgot to wait on God's timing and be strong in God's strength.  In a few short verses, we learn two things:  Moses is loyal to the people of God rather than the Egyptians, and he's willing to kill to protect a mistreated slave.  

He'll have to learn to value human life before he can accomplish what God set him apart to do.  God's work can't be done by breaking God's law.

It's the self-trusting Moses who runs away, perhaps realizing it would be better for him to be out of the picture completely than to be in danger of taking matters into his own hands again.  And just like that, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob makes room for him in a priest's house, where he can still worship the true God and learn at His feet.

(Jethro is the priest of the Midianites, who are also descendants of Abraham through Keturah, the wife he married after Sarah died.  We know he must be a godly man; later when the Israelites are traveling through the wilderness, Jethro visits Moses, and gives good counsel to help Moses manage the large group of people.)

While watching the sheep one day, a burning bush catches Moses' eye.  Not so much because it's burning, but because it isn't burning up.  Approaching the scene, Moses comes in direct contact with the God of the universe, and this once self-trusting, Egyptian trained man now has so little trust in himself that he cannot dare to trust himself to the command of the Lord.

He has drawn closer to the Creator than ever before out in this wilderness.  Now instead of worrying over the wrath of a Pharaoh or devising his own schemes to start an impressive slave revolt, Moses is more worried he will get so much in the way of God's purposes that the people will never agree to follow him out of slavery.

And maybe that's the place we all need to be?  So drawn to the Savior during our seemingly empty desert lives that we cannot imagine anything great from ourselves.  So completely reliant upon the arm of His strength that finally He has something useful in us.

Yet I don't think we should try to argue with the Lord about it when He directs us out of our comfortable deserts and back into front line service.  If we have trusted Him through the deserts, we can trust Him just as much at the desert's edge, the place of daring for Jesus.

Moses' years of tending sheep in the wilderness prepared him for leading the children of Israel.  God accomplished more through those years of seeming emptiness than the plenty of Egypt could ever have done, and when the desert years were over for Moses as a lone man, he came forth as a leader strong in the ways of God and fulfilled one of the greatest callings ever entrusted to a human being.

Perhaps it's time we let God manage our desert training, content as we learn to trust ourselves less, yet willing to move forward in His service whenever and however He may indicate.

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19 October 2013

Eating Healthy Meals (A Habit for Day 19)

I completely believe physical health, as far as it's in your power to be healthy, effects your mental and spiritual life in a powerful way.  The Bible makes it even more clear than that:

"Know ye not that your bodies are the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?  For ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's."  1 Corinthians 6:19, 20
In other words, take good care of the person Jesus bought with His life.  Part of being His means you keep yourself in as good of working order as you can--and you'll reap the benefits of having energy and feeling good, too.

Good nutrition starts before you drive to the store.

You know what happens if you get to the grocery store and you're hungry, right?

You'll buy anything you see, and everything will look good to you.  You're more likely to go way over budget as well as buy more food you can just open and eat in a hurry...which is often not very healthy food.

To avoid buying things you know won't be good for you, make a menu--or at least a grocery list--before you go to the store.  Then try to buy only the items written on your list.  Even if ice cream sandwiches are buy one get one free that week.

Then make your menu one that's easily doable for you, so you don't let the healthy food you've bought go to waste because you don't have time to make the fancy meals you planned.

Load up on fresh produce before you buy anything else.

Several years ago, I discovered that if I started my shopping in the produce section, with fresh fruits and vegetables, these would become the foundation for my meals.  

I'm also weird enough to keep track of my spending as I go, and if I start out in the produce section, the non-fresh items on my list are the ones that get left in the store if it looks like I'm going to go over budget.  Produce is harder to put back on the shelf if I decide I need to adjust the list before I go stand in line.

Do your research

I'm not here to tell you precisely what you should or shouldn't eat.  You have unique tastes and needs, and I can't possibly design a one-size-fits-all type of diet with any specificity.

If you do physical labor for a living, you'll need more and different kinds of food than people who are primarily sedentary in their work.  If you live in Siberia but I live in Papua New Guinea, we can both eat a healthy diet, but it's going to look about as different as night and day.

So research what works for your needs, your budget, your geographic area.  Avoid food and diet fads, and stick with the basics.

A resource my husband and I love to use is a web site called the World's Healthiest Foods.  The site gives common foods, their nutritional properties and benefits, and recipes featuring that food, as well as an in-depth "nutritional profile" which gives lists of studies and source materials.

One disclaimer about the site:  while most of the foods listed are quite healthy, a few of the foods, in my opinion, would better be called "nutrient dense" because while they do contain high levels of some types of nutrients, there are also drawbacks to eating them.

Man shall not live by bread alone...

Once again, a little familiarity with the Bible will show how Jesus linked Himself with the imagery of our every-day needs, reminding us He is even more necessary to us than the food we eat.

"And He humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that He might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live."  Dueteronomy 8:3

"And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to Me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst."  John 6:35

Maybe our trials--the times we hunger in life--are the times Jesus draws nearest, hoping we'll remember the lesson He tried to teach the Israelites in the wilderness.  Maybe He's stretching us thin to drive us back to the only Word that gives life, Jesus Himself.

Perhaps before we sit down to make our next menu or grocery list, we should sit down and think about the words that make up our mental menus.  Does the bread of life make up enough of our diet, or are we still hungering and thirsting after things that can never fill?

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